Military Aviation

US Navy EA-18G pilot explains why the F-16 is a (slightly) better BFM machine than the F-35

The F-16

Designed by General Dynamics as a lightweight, daytime USAF air-combat fighter, the F-16 was first flown on January 20th, 1974. The F-16 was one of the first designs to use a relaxed static stability/fly-by-wire system, which helps it pull 9-g maneuvers and achieve speeds of more than Mach 2.

In an air combat role, the F-16’s maneuverability and combat radius (distance it can fly to enter air combat, stay, fight and return) exceed that of all potential threat fighter aircraft. It can locate targets in all weather conditions and detect low flying aircraft in radar ground clutter.

None comes close to fighting a Viper 1v1

But can an F-16 beat an F-35 in a dogfight?

Adam Daymude, former US Navy EA-18G Growler pilot, explains on Quora;

‘Almost certainly! I’ve fought F-15Cs, all Hornet varieties, F-5s, Kfirs, Tornadoes, Rafales, Harriers, and I’m sure I’m missing a couple of other platforms. None came close to fighting a Viper 1v1.

‘The F-35 is an amazing aircraft! It’s so good at what it does that it’s unlikely to even end up in a dogfight. But if it does, it’s not top dog. I never fought a Raptor but from what I’ve heard, you just can’t beat it in either type of fight (one circle or two circle).

‘But we’re talking about the Viper. Just completely forget about going for a two circle, rate fight. F-15s stand a chance with a very experienced pilot but the rest of us can’t even come close. DO NOT GO TWO CIRCLE WITH AN F-16!!

‘The other option is obviously going one circle, and I had the pleasure of flying probably the best slow speed fighter, the Super Hornet/Growler. We’d setup with either a defensive or offensive positioning, and go full out against each other. If I started offensive, as long as I didn’t allow him to turn the fight into a rate fight, I could usually get a kill. Starting off defensive, I think I had about a 10% survival rate, meaning it was a massive rarity for me to keep him from shooting me down.

The F-35 is somewhere in between the F-16 and the F-18

‘Of course, we would setup neutral runs as well. I repeat from above, do not get into a rate fight with an F-16. But it’s harder than you think to get that other pilot to do what you need/want him to do. It usually ended up in a tangled mess with each of us trying desperately to get into an offensive position. I’d put it at 1/5 fights I didn’t outright lose. The others were where I was able to bug out successfully. Never won in a neutral setup with a Viper. Caveat** I’m not great at BFM…our syllabus was more heavily weighted to Electronic Attack. Some of the fighter squadron guys probably had better success.

This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-16C Fighting Falcon 57th Wing, 64th Aggressor Squadron, WA/86-0280 – Nellis AFB, NV – 2012

‘Why all this talk about the Viper’s dogfighting abilities? Because the sources I’ve been able to find indicate the F-35 is somewhere in between the best rate fighter, F-16, and the best radius fighter, F-18. You can fill in any of our allies’ fighters here as well and some would argue a specific jet is better at rate or radius fights. Regardless, the F-35 is good, but not great, in either. It’s got a monster engine that really helps in both types of fights, but it’s aerodynamics aren’t really geared towards an advantage in either one circle or two circle.

F-35 slightly worse than a Viper in a rate fight

‘Now I chuckle to myself! Gerbil, you didn’t fight an F-35. I’ll bet it’s a whole lot better than you think it is. I so want to go best of 5 vs an F-35 with my trusty steed, the Growler! Might need to lose a few pounds, correct for my presbyopia, do a bit of cardio, reacquaint myself with how to even start the jet up, get all my gear refitted, find a way to reverse time so my reaction time could be the same I had when I was in my 20’s, have 6 months practice against dissimilar aircraft and then I might win a fight or two.

‘What I’m trying to tell you is it’s slightly worse than an F-16 in a rate fight. It’s slightly worse than the Growler/Super Hornet in a radius fight. But those are the two best jets I know of in those regimes. A Battle Penguin will almost certainly defeat any aircraft in a dogfight unless you either have a) an inexperienced Penguin pilot or b) a very experienced pilot on the other side.’

This model is available from AirModels! CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.

Photo credit: Tech. Sgt. Jerilyn Quintanilla / U.S. Air Force

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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